I was wondering what was the difference between these two terms:

“To rip off”

To scam

Which one is better in this sentence? :

“This store rips off their customers”

“This store scams their customers”

Thanks lots!


2 Answers 2


A scam is generally a dishonest or deceitful attempt to rip someone off.

A rip off is taking money from someone without giving them anything of equivalent value in return. It is not necessarily dishonest or deceitful. For example, selling bottled water for $1 per liter is a rip off (at least in countries where tap water is safe to drink), but it isn't a scam.

  • When "rip off" (verb) first came in the late 1960s, it just meant 'steal', and I believe it still does. A rip-off (noun) is a theft or dishonest practice. It can mean overpricing, but that's not the only meaning. Jun 29, 2020 at 21:43
  • 1
    @MichaelHarvey, Notice I said it is not necessarily dishonest. I am not claiming that a rip off is never dishonest. I'm claiming that in current usage it is not always dishonest. A scam is a rip off, but a rip off is not always a scam.
    – The Photon
    Jun 29, 2020 at 23:59

You have marked your question as "formal language" and neither "scam" nor "rip off" are particularly formal. Scam originated in US slang of the early 1960s, and "rip off" is from African American vernacular of the late 60s

Formal alternatives for "scam" could be "an attempt to defraud" or "swindle", and "rip off" is "overpricing".

  • "Scam" and "rip off" are very definitely NOT formal. They are very far from it. Jun 29, 2020 at 21:40
  • They are formal enough for BBC news reports.
    – James K
    Jun 29, 2020 at 21:51
  • The BBC is not the hidebound mouthpiece of the Establishment it once was. Jun 30, 2020 at 5:52

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